Home | Turtles & Tortoises | The Yellow-Spotted Sideneck Turtle (Terecay, Yellow-Spotted Amazon River Turtle), Podocnemis unifilis, in the Wild and Captivity – Care in Captivity

The Yellow-Spotted Sideneck Turtle (Terecay, Yellow-Spotted Amazon River Turtle), Podocnemis unifilis, in the Wild and Captivity – Care in Captivity


Please see Part I of this article for a discussion of this turtle’s natural history.


As mentioned in Part I of this article, I expect sideneck turtles of various species to become more common in the pet trade in the future.  The information provided here is largely applicable to all 6 species in the genus Podocnemis, but please write in for further details concerning turtles other than the yellow-spotted sideneck.

Please bear in mind that yellow-spotted sidenecks grow quite large, and are best kept by those with the space for a very large aquarium or outdoor pond.  If it becomes available at some point, the smaller red-headed Amazon sideneck, P. erythrocephala, would be more easily managed in the home.

Enclosure and Physical Environment

This turtle spends most of it’s time in the water, leaving only to bask or lay eggs.  An adult male or smaller female (some females top out at 12 inches, while others attain 18 inches in length) will require an aquarium of at least 100 gallons in capacity, but a larger enclosure would be preferable.  Turtles kept in aquariums should be afforded the opportunity to swim and forage in larger, temporary quarters, such as a child’s wading pool, when possible.  Large females will require a custom aquarium or outdoor pond.

A sturdy, dry basking platform must be provided.  Adult sidenecks are quite vigorous, so you may need to attach a piece of driftwood or cork bark to the tank’s side with aquarium silicone in order to hold the platform in place.  This will leave the area below the platform free for swimming – rock piles take up too much space, and can be rough on turtle plastrons.

Hatchlings and juveniles can be raised in smaller aquariums, with Zoo Med Turtle Docks or R-Zilla Basking Platforms used as land areas.


Filtration is best accomplished with a strong canister filter, as internal filters will be moved about or broken by these active turtles.  Be sure to choose the most powerful model suitable for the particular enclosure that you maintain.

In common with most aquatic turtles, sidenecks are messy feeders.  They should be offered meals outside of their aquarium, in a plastic storage bin that can easily be dumped and cleaned.  Doing so will go a long way in maintaining water quality and clarity, and will extend the time between filter medium changes.

Light and Heat

Yellow-spotted sidenecks are heliothermic (sun-basking) reptiles and require a source of UVB light in order to produce Vitamin D3 (which is required for calcium metabolism).  The Zoo Med Power Sun UV Mercury Vapor Bulb provides UVB and will help maintain a basking site temperature of 90-95 F.  For smaller aquariums housing young turtles, the Zoo Med Reptisun 10.0 High Output UVB bulb will likely be preferable, as the mercury vapor model is designed for larger enclosures.  Be sure to add an incandescent spotlight for warmth as well.

Yellow spotted sideneck turtles bask frequently in the wild, and require prolonged exposure to UVB in captivity.  If your turtles are nervous and drop into the water when disturbed, consider housing them in a quiet location until they adjust, lest their basking time be compromised.

Water temperature should be kept at 76-80 F.  You may need to protect your submersible heater from the turtles’ attentions with a piece of PVC pipe into which holes have been drilled.

The day/night cycle should be maintained at 12 hours daylight, 12 hours darkness.  If the room’s air temperature falls at night, use an R-Zilla Infra-red Ceramic Heat Emitter ….leaving the basking light on all night will disrupt the turtle’s normal activity patterns, and should be avoided.


Young sidenecks of all species lean towards an animal-based diet, becoming more herbivorous as they mature.  Offer as wide a variety of foods as is possible.

Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle Food is specifically formulated for sidenecks and turtles with similar nutritional requirements, and can be the base of the diet for both growing and adult animals.  It is low in protein, which is an important consideration for older sideneck turtles.  When fed to growing animals, this food should be alternated with Tetra Repto-Min Food Sticks and Suprema Food Sticks.

Hatchlings and young turtles should also be offered regular feedings of whole animals, including earthworms, fish, mealworms and their pupae, waxworms, butterworms, crickets, crayfish and small snails.  Canned grasshoppers, snails, shrimp and caterpillars are now available, and, along with freeze dried prawn, should be used to increase dietary variety.

Be sure to include plant material (see below) in the diet of growing sidenecks…animals refusing to switch to a vegetable-based diet as they mature is commonly encountered problem.  Acclimating turtles to all foods while young will help to avoid this situation.

Adults do best on a wide variety of vegetables, including kale, romaine, endive, dandelion, bok choy, cucumber, mustard greens, collard greens, yams and carrots.  Fruits should be offered sparingly, although apples are fine on a regular basis.  The composition of their diet should be varied with seasonally available greens.  Spinach, which binds calcium, should be avoided.

Provide your turtles with the tough stems of kale and bok choy, as these will help to keep the cutting edges of the jaws trimmed.

Captive Longevity

Captive longevity exceeds 20 years.  Please see Part I of this article for notes on a long-lived group of giant sideneck turtles (P. expansa).


Sidenecks are ideally suited for outdoor ponds.  Please see A Survey of Amphibians, Reptiles and Insects Suitable for Maintenance in Outdoor Ponds – Part II, the Red-Eared Slider, Chrysemys scripta elegans for general considerations.


You can read about current Turtle Conservation Funds projects focusing on sideneck and other turtles at:


Image referenced from Wikipedia.

About Frank Indiviglio

Read other posts by

Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
Scroll To Top